Monday, April 5, 2010
C.A. Rejects Suit by Guests Injured at Party Advertised Online
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
A homeowner who advertises a party on a social networking website does not thereby assume a heightened duty to provide security, the Sixth District Court of Appeal has ruled.
The justices affirmed the dismissal of a suit by Cody Melton, Mike Richard Kelly, and Jesse A. Maldonado. The three claim they were attacked, beaten, and stabbed at the party at the home of Clive Boustred, which they attended after seeing it advertised on MySpace.com.
Their amended complaint included claims for negligence, premises liability, public nuisance, and battery.
The plaintiffs claimed that by using the site to promote the party, the defendant subjected the plaintiffs “to an unreasonable risk of bodily harm arising from: (1) an unregulated publicly advertised event involving the consumption of alcohol, dancing, live music, and DJ services; (2) without restriction on the number or identity of persons attending; and (3) with no attempt to control admission or provide security or protection for attendees.”
‘Should Have Known’
They further asserted that defendant “knew, and should have known, that such actions were highly likely and substantially certain to attract gang members to defendants’ property, to attract violent youths to defendants’ property, to create a dangerous condition on defendants’ property, and to result in injuries to persons attending the party and others.”
Santa Cruz Superior Court Judge Robert Atack sustained Boustred’s demurrer without leave to amend.
Justice Richard McAdams, in a March 12 opinion certified Friday for publication, said that Boustred’s use of MySpace to promote the party did not increase the risk of harm to the plaintiffs. He cited Sakiyama v. AMF Bowling Centers, Inc. (2003) 110 Cal.App.4th 398, in which the court held that the owner of premises on which a “rave” party was held not liable for injuries sustained in an auto crash allegedly caused by a driver who had attended the party.
While the driver may have used drugs at the party, and may have been excessively fatigued because of the late hour at which the party ended, the court in that case reasoned, the defendant did not encourage the use of drugs and did not encourage the driver to stay late or to drive while impaired.
Many social events, the Sakiyama court noted, last until early morning hours and involve the use of liquor or drugs. “Courts have refused to hold business owners and hosts in these situations liable for negligence,” the court said in its opinion.
Noting the similarity between Sakiyama and the present case, McAdams distinguished cases in which owners have been held liable for third-party misconduct on their properties. Those cases, the justice explained, involved defendants who knew or should have known, based on prior incidents, that they were placing visitors at unusual risk.
The justice rejected the argument that “common sense” would have placed the defendant on notice that “a public invitation posted on MySpace to a free party offering music and alcohol was substantially certain to result in an injury to someone.”
McAdams explained that “foreseeability”—a more stringent standard than probability—and not “common sense” or “hindsight” is the appropriate standard for determining duty.
“An injury is reasonably foreseeable only if its occurrence is likely enough in modern daily life that reasonable people would guard against it,” the jurist wrote.
He went on to say that even if the attack on the plaintiffs was foreseeable, the defendant cannot be held liable because the measures that might have prevented it would have been unduly burdensome.
The California Supreme Court, he noted, has never found a property owner to be under a duty to hire security guards in the absence of prior similar incidents. And the plaintiffs’ suggestion that Boustred should have used MySpace’s features that allow the issuance of a limited invitation, McAdams concluded, was vague and might not have prevented the attack—since it is unknown whether the assailants were known to the defendant—and would come at a weighty social cost.
The case is Melton v. Boustred, 10 S.O.S. 1757.
Copyright 2010, Metropolitan News Company